“Thor: The Dark World” Feels Awfully Familiar

Thor 2 Brothers

A 30-something man kicks some butt and treats his early success as an excuse to live like a rock star. He is haunted by a disapproving father figure. A quick-witted entourage distracts him from his demons until he must defeat a rival villain in order to validate all the hero worship. He learns that being a true hero requires teamwork and self-sacrifice. Luckily, he is guided to this realization by an overly patient, more conscientious woman who’s already sacrificed much of her life and career in order to temper his moodiness full-time.

Who am I talking about? Iron Man, Captain America, the Incredible Hulk, or Thor? It’s an effective formula that Marvel Studios has mastered telling in each of its superheroes’ origin stories…and telling again in each of their superheroic sequels.

Counting Thor and The Avengers, Thor: The Dark World is the third outing for the Asgardian warrior-prince Thor (Chris Hemsworth) and his deceptive brother Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Thor’s on-again, off-again, Earth girlfriend Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) also returns. This time around, instead of Loki trying to topple Asgard or Loki trying to destroy Earth, an ancient race of Dark Elves is trying to topple Asgard and destroy Earth. Both at once…now why didn’t Loki think of that?

Five thousand years have passed since the Dark Elves were nearly destroyed by Thor’s grandfather, Bor. The alignment of the Nine Worlds gives them another chance to destroy the universe, but first they must find where their superweapon Aether has been hidden.

Thor 2 Dark Elves

Why are the Dark Elves so genocidal in the first place? They just are. What are the Nine Worlds? We’re not told, but Asgard and Earth are two of them. How does the Aether work? However the screenwriters need it to at the moment, that’s how.

There’s a scene in Hudson Hawk, a 1991 action parody starring Bruce Willis, in which the hero leaps off a building. He survives by crashing through a roof and falling directly into the next scene. Everyone continues without missing a beat. This is how Thor: The Dark World is written. The Aether is supposed to be hidden so well that a race of high-tech, spacefaring elves who can sense it from galaxies away shouldn’t be able to find it. Out of all the billions of souls in the Nine Worlds, who do you think practically trips over the secret, universe-ending superweapon? Jane Foster, that’s who.

It’s a lazy way of shoehorning two plot elements together. Many events in Thor: The Dark World happen not because they have a story purpose, but because they’re less work for the screenwriters that way. At least the jokes are good, often provided by Foster’s intern Darcy (Kat Dennings). This is the funniest film Marvel’s made to date, which is saying something. Likewise, the open emotional wounds that Thor’s family deals with after Loki’s betrayals could have used more exposure; it’s a shame that these are discarded in favor of Thor’s “Dad disapproves of my girlfriend” subplot.

It’s not that Thor: The Dark World is bad. It’s exhilarating and enjoyable. Beat-for-beat, it’s exactly what every other Marvel film is, so it ought to be. It’s a missed opportunity to expand the scale and increase the stakes, however. ‘End of the universe’ isn’t expanding the stakes. It’s the same as ‘end of the world’ as far as I’m concerned: either way, I’m not making it out.

When you watch The Dark Knight trilogy, writer-director Christopher Nolan makes you think about the struggle between social responsibility and anarchy, and the freedoms we trade for security. When you watch the Spider-Man trilogy, Sam Raimi tells you the story of an ill-equipped, awkward, and ignored boy’s struggle to balance everyday responsibilities with a talent he loves but struggles to have faith in or find approval for – you could call it Liberal Arts Major: The Movie.

Thor 2 Lead

What Thor: The Dark World boils down to is one of the year’s best sound-and-light shows. The action, visual effects, make-up, and costuming all work incredibly well. Asgard is a stupendous location, and George Lucas wishes he could still direct a Star Wars battle on par with the Dark Elves’ invasion of the city.

Marvel just needs to grow up a little, to risk their Avengers characters questioning themselves, to suffer a loss and feel it beyond one scene. Thor: The Dark World has more opportunity to communicate pathos than any of its Marvel brethren, but the movie can’t run away quickly enough from any feelings more complex than ‘Thor smash,’ ‘Loki angry,’ and ‘Jane faint.’

Across eight filmsHarry Potter managed to hold our attention because his world changed and expanded. He had to adapt to survive new discoveries and fresh losses. The Marvel universe and its characters need to start evolving, too. You can’t tell a coming-of-age story for a single character three times in a row and expect me to anticipate the fourth. Heck, I came back more for Hiddleston’s excellent Loki than for Thor this time. Maybe it’s time for a Loki movie.

Thor 2 A Loki Movie

At least he’s in touch with his pathos.

Thor: The Dark World is rated PG-13 for sci-fi action and violence.

A version of this review appears in the 11/14/13 issue of La Vernia News.

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“Ender’s Game” Toys with Greatness

Let's see how he handles rejection.The 1985 novel Ender’s Game is a seminal work in science fiction, in which a worldwide military psychologically profiles children in order to find the most tactically gifted, and utilizes video games to hone their skills. It contains one of the finest plot twists in literature and was often described by author Orson Scott Card as impossible to film.

Fast-forward 28 years later to a world that only takes breaks from Call of Duty to complain about drone strikes and Ender’s Game doesn’t seem so outlandish.

Well, except for the part about aliens. Earth is years removed from being ravaged by an aggressive, insectoid race called the Formics. They were repelled at great cost, but Earth remains engaged in a protracted cold war.

Ender Wiggin (Asa Butterfield) is the youngest of three children, unique in and of itself because of an Earthwide two-child policy. In training, Ender beats Stilson, another cadet, at a handheld video game. He’s later confronted by Stilson and, despite being smaller and weaker, Ender puts Stilson on the ground. Not content to just win this fight, Ender beats Stilson mercilessly. His reasoning? To win all the future fights before they happen.

When Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) learns of this, he immediately promotes Ender to the orbital Battle School. This is the sort of tactical reasoning he treasures. Think of Battle School as a more Spartan version of Harry Potter’s Hogwarts, in space, and with Quidditch replaced by zero-gravity laser tag.

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Ender is Graff’s hand-picked favorite to lead Earth’s fleet against the Formics, and this means he’s fast-tracked. His training is done through simulation and most often takes the shape of video games – even Ender’s psychological examination is done through a hidden game on his tablet.

What makes Ender’s Game enthralling is how Ender’s psychology is portrayed. We follow alongside Ender’s every thought, from the way he strategizes around bullies to how he rebels against the ranking adults to create a following among his fellow cadets. His only soft spot is his sister, Valentine (Abigail Breslin), their shared history consisting mostly of surviving their sociopathic older brother.

Ender’s Game has long been a sought-after property for film studios. It was circled by many directors, including a tragic seven-year love affair with Wolfgang Petersen, who boasted Oscar-nominated films such as Das Boot, In the Line of Fire, and The Perfect Storm. Who finally got to direct Ender’s Game? Gavin Hood, director of X-Men Origins: Wolverine…naturally?

My biggest complaint about Ender’s Game is also its biggest strength: Hood’s direction lacks flourish. There’s little sense of wonder at going to school in space. The romantic, sci-fi beauty of Star Wars and the sense of awe inherent in Gravity are lacking. Ender is trained to disregard his sense of wonder, but that shouldn’t mean that I have to as well. This lack of flourish aids in the film’s economy of storytelling, however. There’s not a scene here that isn’t important to the story or that doesn’t tell us something new about Ender. There’s no wasted motion. That’s an incredible feat. Maybe it’s what 28 years of development does for a film.

Butterfield, who you may remember from Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, is phenomenal, and Ford has recently turned in a host of overlooked performances that are simultaneously scary and dryly comic. Breslin (Little Miss Sunshine), Viola Davis (The Help), Ben Kingsley (Ghandi), and Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit) round out a solid cast. That’s nine Oscar nominations and one win, if you’re counting, and it shows.

Ender’s Game doesn’t feel meaty while you’re watching it, but it’s chock full of questions about war and how we treat our soldiers. At one point, Graff tells Ender that the purpose of this war is “to end all other wars.” That was also the purpose of World War I.

The novel managed to be both a staple for anti-military protesters and on the recommended reading list for officers in the U.S. Marine Corps. The film is just as easy to swallow and challenging to think about. As a tale about understanding this single, complicated character, Ender’s Game is a brilliant achievement. In many ways, it feels more like biography than science-fiction. It’s rated PG-13 for some violence, a few spaceships blowing up, and that plot twist that won’t get out of my head, even if I knew it was coming.

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A version of this review by Gabriel Valdez appears in the 11/7/13 edition of La Vernia News.

“Bad Grandpa” Ought to Be Buried

Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa is a hidden-camera epic that opens with 86-year old Irving Zisman (Johnny Knoxville) learning that his wife has died. Feeling free for the first time in decades, he decides to have a good time. Apparently, this means getting his privates stuck in the soda machine outside a convenience store, complete with a prosthetic. Hidden-camera means, of course, that most people on-screen have no idea Zisman is played by an actor or that they’re being filmed.

You’ll also see Irving sexually harass women in a variety of locations – an office park, a bingo parlor, and a male strip club. The comedy is tone-deaf. At the bingo parlor, he hits on nearby women and drinks the blue fluid used to mark bingo cards. When he ups the ante and takes a blender from his bag to make a drink, several patrons scramble away, thinking the black-and-silver base is a homemade bomb. After all, it’s hilarious to make a crowd of senior citizens think you’re about to blow them up, right?

Bad Grandpa breaks this up with moments when grandson Billy (nine-year old Jackson Nicoll) interrupts women in the middle of their workday to call them strippers and translate to them the various sexual acts that Irving (pretending he can’t talk) would like to do to them.

All the sketches are hamstrung into a wannabe-plot about a cross-country road trip the two take. We aren’t given a single reveal – that moment when people realize they’re in a hidden-camera sketch – until the end credits. I imagine most revealed a slap in the face and a call to a lawyer.

To get to those end credits? You have to go through Billy performing a striptease at a youth beauty pageant in front of young children and their families. Are you laughing yet?

My favorite hidden-camera sketch came from a show called The Jamie Kennedy Experiment. Jamie Kennedy plays a Hollywood tour guide who breaks into the home of Bob Saget, famous for playing good-natured dad Danny Tanner on Full House. Kennedy encourages the unsuspecting tourists to take souvenirs from Saget’s home and break his things, claiming it’s all part of the tour.

When Saget arrives home, he claims Kennedy is a stalker and accuses the tourists of being burglars and thieves. Some react with embarrassment, some blame Kennedy, and others try to justify their actions. As the sketch reaches a fever pitch, Kennedy and Saget finally reveal the gag. It was a prank, a social experiment, and ended with two TV stars taking pictures with smiling fans who were excited to be part of it. All managed without sexual harassment, racism, ruining anyone’s childhood, or making someone feel like they’re about to be molested.

That shouldn’t be hard to accomplish, but watching Bad Grandpa feels like being asked to babysit drunk frat boys and getting told one of them is on the National Sex Offender Registry. Its humor is lazy, its racism and sexism without excuse. Worst of all, there are no negative consequences for Irving’s acts. Bad Grandpa uses its MTV connection to aim itself at kids, but without a point to make, we’re really just offered a 42-year old man dressed as an 86-year old man as an excuse to insult women and make a 9-year old boy do a striptease in front of 9-year old girls. If that’s funny to someone, I don’t know him, and please don’t introduce us.

The only thing I can say for Bad Grandpa is that Knoxville is a gifted physical comedian who is convincing as an 86-year old. I just wish he’d done something funnier or more useful with his talents.

I hate to say I can’t recommend a film to anyone, but there’s no one upon whom I’d wish this train wreck. Save yourself the time and money and rent a better hidden-camera alternative. MTV’s Punk’d had the budget to pull intricate pranks on famous actors and musicians. The Jamie Kennedy Experiment had variety and moments of comedic genius in its sketches. While SyFy’s Scare Tactics, a hidden-camera show with a science-fiction/horror theme, is often amateurish, it has its heart in the right place.

Bad Grandpa is rated R for “strong crude and sexual content throughout, language, some graphic nudity and brief drug use.” It’s the worst film I’ve ever seen in a theater.

A version of this review by Gabriel Valdez appears in the 10/31/13 edition of La Vernia News.

“Carrie” – A Schoolbus, Our Bruises, and What Stephen King Taught Us

“O Children Deaths go breathe your breaths
Sobbing breasts’ll ease your Deaths,
Pain is gone, tears take the rest.”

Allen Ginsberg, “Father Death Blues”

“During the 12 months before the survey, 32.8% of students had been in a physical fight, 20.1% had ever been bullied on school property, and 7.8% had attempted suicide.”

-CDC High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 2011

I sat in the middle of the bus, right side. It was junior high and we were on our way to a band competition outside Chicago. We each had our own seat, which was nice. I was tall and liked having the room to stretch out.

There was someone in the seat before mine who wouldn’t leave me alone, and there was a torture bullies used – probably still use – where they pinch your chest as hard as they can hoping they’ll hit something sensitive. I was bigger than him, I’d been doing taekwondo for years, and yet I did nothing to stop him. How much was self-control and how much was just fear, I don’t think I’ll ever know. The trip was two hours.

When I got home that evening and pulled off my shirt, I discovered my chest was purple and red with bruises. I could barely touch my own skin. I didn’t tell anyone, not a parent or teacher, not our band instructor, not even my taekwondo teacher. Shame is a powerful suppressant.

There were other times – getting jumped at lunch in the seventh grade, and in the eighth grade being surrounded by a dozen kids at recess while the weakest of them pummeled me in the chest for half an hour. I knew if I reacted, all dozen would jump on me and beat me, and so I didn’t react. I took it, and I didn’t tell anyone.

Now that I’m bigger, with 20 years of training and a black belt, I go out of my way to help people being picked on. When I work with children, I make sure they know there are adults to ask for help, and that bullies are only bullies because they’re being picked on by someone, too. I had good outlets, strong parents and a sister and taekwondo and football and, yes, even band, to pour myself into.

Yet, I still deal with anger issues I turn inward. Sometimes, I feel like it’s the universe against only me. I still have moments when I’m paralyzed making a decision, thinking of what’s safest, and I know that much of it can be traced back to two hours on a bus, to a crowd at lunchtime, to a half-hour at recess. When it’s said that bullying lasts a lifetime, it’s not an exaggeration.

The remake of Carrie addresses bullying by giving us young Carrie White (Chloe Grace Moretz) and her overprotective mother Margaret (Julianne Moore). It follows Stephen King’s prescient 1974 novel of the same name. Carrie is tortured at school and she doesn’t have an outlet. Margaret is a fanatic and, when you’re a fanatic, it really doesn’t matter what you’re fanatical about. Here, innocent Carrie is punished for the sins Margaret herself committed when young.

Carrie is special – as she is bullied, she notices her own unique ability for telekinesis. She can move objects and light fires with her mind. At the same time, she becomes a cause at school – some classmates, bullied themselves, want to see how far they can push her. Others try to make amends.

Margaret thinks Carrie is possessed, but why would a girl with a gift be demonic instead of heavenly? Carrie tries to act normal and be accepted, both at school and by her mother, but in the end, she’s pushed too far. When people get pushed too far, they do something drastic, and when they can move objects and light fires with their mind…well, you can see where this is headed.

What if I didn’t have strong parents, a sister, taekwondo, and football? The next town over from me is South Hadley, Massachusetts, where 15-year old Phoebe Prince hanged herself in 2010 and drove bullying into the national headlines. As Stephen King told biographer George Beahm, the girl on whom he based Carrie committed suicide. So where would I be if I hadn’t had enough outlets? I might not be anywhere.

Carrie is an above-average horror movie bolstered by two superb actresses at the top of their game. It’s not great, but it is important. Kids don’t always know what outlets are available and real-life desperation doesn’t mean telekinesis. For Prince, it meant a rope. For 12-year old Rebecca Sedwick in Florida last month, it meant a tall building. For too many, it means a gun, their school, and the police. Carrie is rated R for blood, violence, imagery, language, and sexual content. It’s not appropriate for young children, but for those of a certain age, it’s less terrifying than a bus trip.

A version of this review by Gabriel Valdez first appeared in the 10/22/13 edition of La Vernia News.

Weight of the World on Each of Us in “Gravity”

“You say I’m something I’m not,
but I’m not what I seem.
Get my back off the wall.
If I could just make it stop.”

– Low, “Just Make It Stop”

We all go through hell. One thing goes wrong: an unpaid bill, a break-up, or a crucial piece of mail that never gets delivered. We get frustrated, but we keep our heads up. And then the next thing goes: you lose a friend, you’re chewed out at work, someone scrapes your car. You get angry, but you keep on going. And then the third, and the fourth, and fifth things go, until you can barely take it and something as simple as an extra grocery trip or a shattered glass has you cursing yourself, punching a wall, and saying, “I just can’t do this.” Each and every one of us has some version of this we’ve faced.

Hell is doing everything you can, working your hardest, and realizing your best just isn’t good enough. It’s disheartening, and if enough piles on, it breaks you. It makes you lose control, it makes you justify surrendering to the stress and pressure. It turns you into a different person than you thought you were.

Gravity is a survival story. It’s a single, 90-minute action sequence about astronauts Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock) and Matt Kowalski (George Clooney) trying to find a way to survive a debris field that destroys their space shuttle.

The effect Gravity has can’t be fully described. It’s going to be different for different people. For some, it will be an exceptional action movie, but I suspect for most it will dig deeper. In Bullock’s performance, many will see themselves in those moments when they truly felt beaten down by the world.

That it happens in a real-time, 3-D, science-fiction extravaganza is unexpected. We are spoiled for great movies in the theater right now, and Gravity may be one of the greatest ever. The performances sit comfortably on that border between movie and real. Director Alfonso Cuaron, who’s given us Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Children of Men, uses long, constantly moving, unbroken takes. The opening shot alone lasts 17 minutes and contains as many life-or-death moments as a Die Hard film. The musical score is at times overwhelming; even the sound is precise. When you’re sitting in a theater, matching your breathing to Bullock’s, and reaching out to clutch your own hand when she grabs for the very last hold that can stop her from spinning out into space, you realize you’re experiencing a movie that takes over your senses in a way that’s entirely new.

I can’t remember rooting for a character so hard, not just wanting but needing Bullock’s Stone to make it through. It’s not because she’s special or heroic. She is certainly those things, but it’s because she responds so very much like the rest of us. Her impossible tasks may happen in space, but her hopelessness and frustration feel just like yours and mine.

We live in a moment in history when more people are being broken than ever before, when more face that unbearable moment of climbing back to their feet for a fourth, fifth, sixth time in a row and can’t tell whether it’s really worth the effort. It happens to loved ones, to strangers, to the elderly who have tried their entire lives and to the young who haven’t gotten the opportunity. These last two weeks, in a government shutdown, it’s happened to our country itself. Ernest Hemingway, perhaps the greatest American writer, once wrote, “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially.”

If you take one thing from Gravity, it’s that we all go through hell. Life is too often a contest to see whether we get stronger or keep on breaking. And if you have the heart to root for Sandra Bullock here, which should be easy, then have the courage to root for the people around you when they’re breaking, too. You’ll be surprised – it’s just as easy.

Stop! Stop! Stop All the Rushing, Give Me Time to Breathe

I’ve never been a fan of car racing. I grew up in Chicago, so between Bears coach Mike Ditka and Bulls superstar Michael Jordan, I caught onto football and basketball instead. Rush isn’t as concerned with racing as it is in the contrary personalities of 1976 Formula 1 racing rivals James Hunt (Chris Hemsworth) and Niki Lauda (Daniel Bruhl).

They attack their sport with completely contradictory approaches. Hunt drives by instinct and feel, anticipating and reacting to the road in the moment. Lauda, however, studies the track and redesigns his cars from the inside out. To Hunt, his sport is a battle for life and death akin to gladiatorial combat. For Lauda, it’s simply a business.

These approaches are echoed in the best rivalries of every sport. You see it every time Rex Ryan’s bipolar New York Jets meet Bill Belichick’s hyper-logical New England Patriots, or in Mark Cuban’s flamboyant ownership role with the Dallas Mavericks versus the measured management of the San Antonio Spurs. Heck, you can even see it in some working relationships – think Kirk and Spock.

Here, Hemsworth essentially plays a drunker version of his Avengers alter-ego Thor. He’s strong and manly, women fall at his feet, and despite his alcoholism, brawling, and infidelity, he has the natural, winking charisma to make us like him for it. It’s not that Hemsworth is incapable of doing something truly dramatic; it’s that no filmmaker has taken that chance on him yet.

Bruhl is the one who steals the show as Lauda. Immediately awful and unbearable as a human being, Lauda’s logical and risk-averse approach to life and racing reveal a bullied and sheltered man without the looks or social graces to easily connect with those around him.

As Rush plays on, director Ron Howard seems to realize who the better actor and story belong to – it’s Lauda’s life put front and center.

Rush is ham-handed in the way it tells its story. Hunt’s and Lauda’s domestic lives play out like soap opera highlights. The races are all given to us in montage form. There’s even one sequence that’s a montage of all the race montages. Hunt’s and Lauda’s early rivalry boils down to Hunt calling Lauda rat-faced and Lauda cussing Hunt out.

Ron Howard has never been the bravest director, nor the most original or unique. He finds good stories and knows how to focus in on the best performance and make a moment in time feel authentic. He can frame a scene to draw out its human elements, but doesn’t always know how to present actors as real humans.

A marital argument between Hunt and supermodel wife Suzy Miller sports some good insults, for instance, but without a more seasoned actor to hold the scene down, Hemsworth and Olivia Wilde seem like they’re performing overwrought dinner theater. Yet, Rush equals more than the accumulation of storytelling shortcuts and missed opportunities.

Rush is a racing movie, but more than that, it’s a movie about how you live life. For instance, I’m frustrated with the inconsistencies I deal with at my weekday job. I badly want to give in to the Hunt side of my personality, to have a verbal confrontation and fire-and-brimstone my way to satisfaction. I almost always pull a Lauda, however – I know what’s most profitable for me is to let the insults roll off and to treat disagreements with management diplomatically, even if it makes me unhappy to force an anxious part of myself underneath the surface.

Hunt seems like the happy one, though. Even Lauda at one point tells his wife, “Happiness is the enemy.” Hunt was happy and died young. Lauda was unhappy but wildly successful. I don’t honestly know what that tells me – maybe that’s why they make understanding girlfriends and wise parents.

Both men were warriors, so maybe that’s the lesson: don’t give up. Rush isn’t the kind of great film that will keep finding its way into your thoughts weeks from now, but it is a satisfying one.

Rush is rated R for sexual content, nudity, language, some disturbing images, and brief drug use. Why any of it’s needed is beyond me. I can’t think of a recent film that could more easily be edited to PG-13 without losing any real content.

One Injustice Makes “Prisoners” of Us All

The worst parts of our adult life arrive when terror sneaks in, when knowledge and control suddenly slip out of our grasp and the “normal” to which we anchor every day disappears.

Prisoners isn’t just a first-rate mystery about the kidnapping of two girls, it’s also a tale about what happens to the parents left behind.

Anna Dover and Joy Birch go missing one rainy evening. An arrest is quickly made by Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal), but he has to release suspect Alex Jones (Paul Dano) because the man’s IQ is too low to mastermind the kidnapping.

Anna’s father, Keller (Hugh Jackman), is many things: a survivalist, a religious family man, and a carpenter. That he’s a complex character who doesn’t fit into any Hollywood archetype is a tribute to Jackman and the filmmakers. Even when he kidnaps Jones to tear the information out of him by any means necessary, it’s impossible to judge him. We still root for him.

Combine Gyllenhaal’s youthful appearance and acting opposite an Oscar winner and three other, older nominees, and it’s very easy to forget just how good he is. Loki defies convention, too. He’s a talented detective, hard-working and good at what he does, yet he’s distracted by a cash-strapped police department, a captain who finds it easier to avoid confrontation than deliver a harsh truth, and now he has to find his missing suspect as well as the two girls. You can understand when he pursues misleading clues right past the most obvious ones.

While the mystery is top-notch, there’s a story of faith brewing just under the surface. My favorite story in the Bible was always that of Job – what does a man of faith do when he has everything taken away from him for no reason? Does he maintain his belief at the end? Even religious leaders and scholars can’t tell us for sure. At the end of his debate with God, Job eventually falls silent. His silence can be read two ways. Either Job is rendered speechless before God’s might or, realizing he cannot win the argument before him, he becomes silent as an act of defiance.

Like some of our most brilliant stories, there is no right answer – the right answer is within us. The right answer is what each of us decides Job did, and why. No story so elegantly defines the act of faith. “The Book of Job” hinges on who you want Job to be, on who you want to be yourself. At the end of the day, are you someone who can accept suffering and endure it, or are you so righteous that you’ll stick to your guns no matter what the obstacle? Both are admirable in different ways. I like to think that there’s no right answer – that what makes the story so effective is that life demands a little bit of each. To me, it says that no matter what religion you are, faith is something to which we all aspire. The moment we achieve it, we become righteous and it disappears, so that we have to work at it all over again.

Like all good mysteries, Prisoners has a conclusion that provides us the answers to what really happened. What takes it from being a good film to a great one is that we’re left to write Keller Dover’s ending. Despite his faith, he’s kidnapped a boy because he is certain Jones knows something no one else does. Prisoners finds a brilliant way to take Keller’s fate away from the storytellers and to put it in the hands of each viewer, to make us his judges.

As of the end of September, Prisoners is the movie of the year. Nothing else comes close.

It’s rated R because of the subject matter and disturbing content including torture. It’s honestly no worse than you’ll see on “CSI” or “NCIS.” I’ve been surprised lately that sci-fi movies and family comedies have involved so much violence; what you see in Prisoners is toned down for its subject matter and has a context. It is an intense film, however. I crawled back in my seat. I chewed my nails off. My jaw dropped and I felt a chill up my spine when I realized what the film was really asking me. Prisoners is a film among films. It’s why we go into a dark theater for two hours and say, “Make me believe.”

Movies and how they change you.